What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 21 September 2020 – 27 September 2020

COVID-19 Related Discrimination Claim

Northern Mining and NSW Energy District have made a discrimination claim against BHP and Chandler Macleod. The Union argues that both BHP and Chandler Macleod contravened the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) by excluding employees from the workplace on the basis of their race, age and physical disability. Northern Mining and NSW Energy District claim that ‘at risk’ and vulnerable employees have been prevented from working since April due to coronavirus but have not been paid throughout this time. All employees 65 years or older, Indigenous employees 50 or older and those with underlying health conditions were directed, as a part of a nation-wide policy, to stay home. And despite having a $6 million fund set aside, resources to pay these workers dried up on June 30. Since then, Chandler Macleod has refused to pay employees at Muswellbrook’s Mount Arthur Coal Mine. A spokesperson for BHP said that ‘[a]t the onset of COVID-19, we made the decision as a company to implement work from home arrangements, or where that was not possible, remove from our workplaces employees and contractors that were at higher risk of serious illness should they contract the virus. We made the decision because above all else, our people’s health and wellbeing comes first.’

COVID-19 Has Impacted Women and Employment More than Men

New data shows that women have been disproportionately affected in their careers by coronavirus. Recent Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that while overall employment decreased by 7.5 per cent between March 14 and April 18, female employment dropped by 8.1 per cent during the same period. This finding was echoed by recent LinkedIn Economic Graph data, which shows that lockdown measures have more adversely impacted hiring of women. The Linkedin study also found that women are significantly less confident about their future work prospects in comparison to their male counterparts. Associate Professor Alysia Blackham of the University of Melbourne told SBS that coronavirus was magnifying already existing inequalities in the Australian workforce. ‘Women were already overrepresented in insecure work and are more likely to be on casual contracts with no paid leave entitlements, so there is no obligation to employ them on an ongoing basis or ensure certain hours,’ she said.

Exploitation of Fruit Pickers

Media Diversity Australia (MDA) Director Antoinette Lattouf said Australia’s fruit industry needs to improve its labour conditions. While the industry, which was hit hard during the COVID-19 pandemic, is in desperate need of financial help, rumours have surfaced around mistreatment, misconduct and malpractice. An investigative piece released by the ABC last week revealed that foreign workers are being exploited on farms, with one worker stating she was paid a $2.50 an hour wage picking strawberries on a farm in Queensland. ‘More stories about sexual harassment of young agricultural workers are also surfacing,’ Ms Lattouf said. ‘An agricultural industry leader based in Queensland just days ago admitted to me … that the exploitation of workers is the shameful underbelly of the industry,’ she added.

Cricket Australia Developing New Diversity Plan

Cricket Australia has engaged a diverse selection of experts and sportspeople to develop a new diversity and inclusion plan. Among those assisting the organisation in its bid to improve the sport are cricketers Usman Khawaja and Elyse Villani and Graeme Innes AM, Australia’s former Australian Disability Discrimination Commissioner. The program aims to ensure Cricket Australia has a water-tight action plan to guide decisions made across all parts of the game, including recruitment, major events, digital platforms and education. Adam Cassidy, Cricket Australia Diversity and Inclusion Manager, said: ‘[w]e’re very excited about bringing people with a wealth of different professional and lived experience together to help us advance as an organisation.’

Age Based Retirement Policy Challenged

Deloitte Australia has applied to strike out large sections of the age discrimination case brought by partner Colin Brown. Deloitte partner Colin Brown is pursuing a claim under consumer law, age discrimination and victimisation law based on the company’s mandatory retirement clause, which requires partners to retire at age 62. This is the first time an age-based retirement policy is being challenged in court. Despite its potential, the impact of the case could be dampened by Deloitte’s application to the Federal Court to delete 36 out the 71 paragraphs in Mr Brown’s claim. The professional services company alleged the claims violate the court’s rules around appropriate pleadings. If successful, the application could lessen the impact of the decision on partnerships with age-based retirement policies by confining the result to Mr Brown’s specific case.

E Learning Resource for LGBTI+ Inclusive Sports Clubs

The ‘Creating an LGBTI+ Inclusive Sports Club’, an Australian-first e-learning course designed to give sporting organisations greater understanding about LGBTI+ discrimination, has launched. Premiering on 22 September, the program attracted a panel discussion featuring Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley, former AFLW player Moana Hope, leading inclusion researcher Dr Ruth Jeanes and Australia’s first openly gay professional men’s footballer Andy Brennan. The course follows a push in Australian sport to promote inclusivity and diversity.

AHRC Review into Australian Gymnastics

The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has commenced public consultation, including both interviews and focus groups, for its Independent Review into Australian gymnastics. The Review, which is taking place at the request of Gymnastics Australia, will deliver its findings at the start of 2021. In view of reports of harassment and bullying within the sport, the Review will seek to identify systemic issues such as misconduct and maltreatment. Australia’s current Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins said that ‘[w]ith the spotlight on human rights of athletes globally this is a landmark project for the sport of gymnastics in Australia, and we expect the findings to inform future practice across sport more broadly.’

Complaint Against Senator Chandler is a Threat to Free Speech

Victorian Liberal Senator James Paterson has come out in support of Tasmanian Senator Claire Chandler, who is currently the subject of scrutiny over remarks about trans women in sport. In an opinion piece published in The Australian, Senator Paterson said that ‘[t]he anti-discrimination complaint against Tasmanian Liberal senator Claire Chandler is the latest example of the threat to free speech posed by Australia’s state and federal anti-discrimination laws, and the bodies tasked with enforcing them.’ Senator Chandler has since declined to ‘withdraw, retract, modify or apologis[e]’ for her comments.